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7 Kinds of Dysfunctional Eating

States of mind

In an ideal world, we would all eat exactly the things that our bodies needed in exactly the right amounts, and those things would be incredibly delicious to us. Unfortunately, of course, many of us don’t live in that world. It’s not uncommon to come up with any number of reasons to eat that have little to do with what our bodies need–and surprisingly enough, often little to do with even enjoying our food.

But if we become more aware of why we’re eating when we’re eating dysfunctionally (those of us who eat dysfunctionally sometimes), then our options improve, and it becomes easier to make choices that will increase our happiness and health. This is a way of practicing mindfulness: noticing patterns in ourselves that, once seen and understood a little, can be changed.

These patterns are useful to notice not just for eating more healthily, but also for taking more pleasure in what we do eat. Many of these patterns contribute to eating food that is meant to be pleasurable in a way that prevents it from providing any enjoyment–and what good is that?

  1. Compensation eating: Eating as a consolation prize because something went wrong. Some examples are eating something we usually like because something we ate earlier was disappointing, or eating when something goes wrong (“I can’t go to the concert, but at least I can eat this huge bowl of ice cream.”)
  2. Add-on eating: Continuing eating during a meal or snack even when we’ve had as much as our body needs at the moment. One of the reasons add-on eating happens is that it takes our bodies about 20 minutes to feel full even when we’ve eaten a substantial meal. Another reason is that eating something sweet starts a cycle that creates a craving for something else sweet.
  3. Automatic eating: Eating because something is in front of us, not because we’re enjoying it a lot or because it’s something we need. Automatic eating is a good reason not to have conversations at the snack table at parties and not to open a bag of chips when sitting down to a movie: you look up after half an hour and realize you’ve eaten twice your body weight in junk food without really noticing or enjoying it.
  4. Bounty eating: Eating because there is so much there to eat. College students (for example) often run into this problem at any event that offers free food, and sometimes it can occur as a result of having just stocked the cupboards to bursting or from being at an event where a huge amount of food has been put out.
  5. Social eating: It’s not uncommon to eat in order to appease someone, to appear polite, to fit in, because everyone else is doing it, or to have something to do with our hands.
  6. Supposed-to-be-delicious eating: Eating a favorite or very attractive-looking food not due to actually being hungry for it, but on the general idea that it’s desirable food and that therefore we should be enjoying it. Yet sometimes foods we like just aren’t what we need or even want at the moment.
  7. “I just can’t resist” eating: Telling ourselves that although we wouldn’t be best served to eat a particular thing, we “just can’t resist.” This is an example of “all-or-nothing thinking”, a broken idea. In fact, there are almost always options.

Readers: have any patterns to add?

Photo by brotherxii

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